Thursday, November 21, 2013

Freedom of religion preserved

A bill to overturn controversial laws that allow private schools to expel students for being gay or transgender has been shelved indefinitely after the NSW Coalition indicated it was unlikely to support the change.

But Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich, who had been pushing for the change, said he was pleased by statements from Education Minister Adrian Piccoli highlighting the impact of discrimination and urging students to report private schools which did not look after their welfare to the Board of Studies.

Mr Greenwich had introduced a private member's bill to remove exemptions for private schools from parts of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which otherwise makes it unlawful to expel or discriminate against gay students.

Labor, the Greens, mental health advocacy groups including BeyondBlue and the Law Society of NSW have voiced support for the bill, but some faith-based schools argued it could threaten religious freedom.

Mr Greenwich withdrew the bill on Wednesday after indications that the government, whose support would be required to pass it, was unlikely to do so.

But he said he was heartened by comments from Mr Piccoli saying discriminatory language, vilification and bullying of any student had no place in schools.

Mr Piccoli told Parliament he was "moved and concerned" by stories of bullying and mistreatment highlighted by Mr Greenwich. He had asked the Board of Studies, which registers non-government schools, to advise him of what it could do to protect student welfare.

Mr Piccoli said providing a "safe and supportive" environment for students was a requirement of registration and the board would investigate complaints from students where schools had failed to do so.

"I urge anyone who has concerns about a school’s welfare policy to bring it to the attention of the Board where it will be investigated fully," he said.

Mr Greenwich said he was disappointed the government had not demonstrated support for his bill but was pleased by the comments.

“I will reintroduce my bill in parliament next year if the new Board of Studies process fails to protect vulnerable students from discrimination and I remain committed to anti-discrimination law reform and removing religious exemptions," he said.

Two groups working in the mental health sector - BeyondBlue and the Australian Clinical Psychology - had thrown their support behind Mr Greenwich’s bill, as had the Law Society of NSW.

"As private educational authorities are recipients of public funds, the standards that apply to public educational authorities in terms of the protection of students or prospective students against discrimination on protected attributes should also apply..." the Law Society wrote in a letter.

But groups representing private schools have argued there are few if indeed any known cases of students being expelled for being gay, and said their religious freedom was at stake.

"Removing exemptions wouldn't increase protections for the students at all, but what it would do is remove protection for the school to teach their ethos and values and expose them to litigation," Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, told Fairfax Media this year.


NSW minister calls for cap on teaching degrees

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has called for a cap on the number of students allowed to enrol in teaching degrees to curb the state's oversupply of primary school teachers.

Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday more than 40,000 teachers are on a waiting list for permanent jobs in NSW and the oversupply of primary teachers is likely to last until the end of the decade even if resignations or retirements double.

Mr Piccoli says he has long held the view that university places should be limited in teaching to better align supply with need. He says Finland, which is often celebrated for its high educational standards, has a very tight cap on the number of students accepted into teacher training.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne says the government has no plans to cap placements but would review teacher training courses to ensure they produce the highest quality graduates. "We don't intend to pre-empt the outcome of that review, but it will be wide ranging and look at many aspects of teacher training," he said.

While the state government cannot implement a cap, Mr Piccoli says it can control who is accepted into teaching and that is why it is bringing in tougher entry requirements.

From 2015 school leavers must score at least a band five, or more than 80 per cent, in three HSC subjects, including English.

"What we want to do is to take out some of the lower achieving students who go into teaching by setting that high standard," he said. "We want students with an ATAR of at least 70 and higher."

A Fairfax Media analysis of the 2013 university entry cut-offs found the average ATAR needed to enter a degree to teach in primary schools was 71. The Australian Catholic University, the University of Newcastle and the University of Western Sydney offered at least one teaching course with an ATAR below 65. But universities say the issue is not the number of teachers they are training but how and where they are employed.

Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven says teachers are increasingly being hired in casual or temporary positions, which often amount to full-time work. "The reason that's happening is not because universities are producing too many teachers, it's because employers of teachers obviously find certain cost and flexibility advantages in hiring teachers in that way," he said.

The executive dean of Charles Sturt University's education faculty, Toni Downes, says it should not be up to the government to control how many people study teaching. "Graduates go to the non-government school system, the catholic school system, interstate, they go overseas, they use [their degrees] in educational settings that aren't schools and a range of human services using HR," she said.

English and History teacher Andrew Bigwood has been on the "casual roundabout" for 10 years and has no work lined up for next year. He supports two children and a wife who cannot work because she has multiple sclerosis. "There is this fantasy that you will walk out of uni into a job but it's simply not the case," he said.


Qld. police to gain protection from being sued

This is deplorable.  The courts are just about the only remedy for police misbehaviour

Premier Campbell Newman introduced the Public Service Amendment bill on Tuesday, announcing it was designed to protect "public service employees, police officers and other persons in particular circumstances relating to engaging in conduct in an official capacity" from civil action.

Mr Newman said he was following through on an election promise to review the laws.  "Police perform a critical role in ensuring safe communities in Queensland," he said.

"In the often highly complex situations they respond to, and despite performing their roles professionally and in good faith, the nature of their business means there are occasional incidents that cause injury to people or damage to property."

The legislation amendments are designed to protect state employees who are working in an official capacity from civil liability.

Instead, that liability will be transferred to the state. But the legislation does include a clause which allows the government to recoup costs from state employees who "have engaged in conduct other than in good faith, and with gross negligence".

The Queensland Police Union had been calling for the change for several years, after a Brisbane constable was found guilty of an assault of a 65-year-old homeless man in 2006.

Bruce Rowe brought a private prosecution against Constable Benjamin Arndt following his own arrest. Mr Arndt was found guilty in 2011 and fined $1000 and ordered to pay court costs.

At the time, the police union decried the situation as an attack on how police did their job and demanded the law be changed.

On Tuesday, QPU president Ian Leavers called the legislation "a great start for police to achieve criminal and civil protections for police acting in good faith without gross negligence".

"...We are very pleased with the introduction of the bill as it now gives police greater peace of mind as they go about their job protecting Queensland," he said.

The bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee for review and is expected to be passed early next year.


Spy row: No sign of apology from Tony Abbott as Indonesia freezes cooperation with Australia

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is showing no sign he intends to apologise to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over the spying scandal.

Indonesia has now suspended cooperation with Australia on people smuggling, including combined military patrols, military training exercises and intelligence exchanges.

Two hours after Mr Yudhoyono announced he was freezing cooperation with Australia late yesterday, Mr Abbott rose in Parliament to reiterate his regret over the spying reports.

"I want to express here in this chamber my deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and to Indonesia that's been caused by recent media reporting," he said.

Mr Abbott said he would respond "swiftly, full and courteously" to a written request for an explanation, but there was no indication he had any plans to say sorry.

No doubt mindful of the fact the phone tapping program was in place during Labor's time in office, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten lent his support to the Government.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek supported the bipartisan approach when she fronted reporters this morning.

"We are absolutely committed to working with the Government to restoring good relations with Indonesia," she said.  "[We are] absolutely willing to support any moves they make to restore the relationship to its normal footing."

Australia's longest serving foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has also supported Mr Abbott's position.

He told the ABC's Lateline program that Australia does not owe Indonesia a detailed explanation of its spying activities.

He says Mr Abbott's priority is to defend Australia's intelligence assets, adding that while Mr Yudhuyono had been "a great friend" to Australia, "he is not responsible for Australia's intelligence assets".

"I think the best way to handle these issues, stick with the time-worn formula that you never confirm or deny allegations in relation to intelligence, because the more you start to do that, the more - as time goes on - you'll get yourself into increasing trouble," Mr Downer said.

US secretary of state John Kerry has also supported the approach not to discuss intelligence matters.

Speaking at a press conference with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Washington this morning, they both refused to say whether they discussed the spying controversy - one that was sparked by the leaking of documents by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

"As I have said on numerous occasions and as the Prime Minister has said, we do not discuss intelligence matters, certainly not allegations," Ms Bishop said.  "We do not discuss them publicly and we will not do so."

Mr Kerry said: "We just don’t talk about intelligence matters in public, and we’re not about to begin now."

He added that the US has a critical working relationship with Australia, "likewise we have great respect and affection for Indonesia".


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ms Pilbersek has now been pulled into line as her hatred of the Conservative side of politics was clouding her judgement. I still think the Labor protestations of bipartisanship are "tongue in cheek" now that maximum damage has (in their mind) been inflicted on the new Govt and Prime MinisterTony Abbott